Scars of War to Enhance a World

Middle Earth Battlefield

With the final battle of Legends of Windemere written and published, I’ve begun thinking about the stories that happen afterwards.  My next series takes place a few hundreds years before the champions, which gives me time to consider all of the changes that future heroes will introduce to readers.  After all, the Baron and the champions had a massive battle and it doesn’t make any sense for there to be no eternal scars that remind people of the event.  We have stuff like that in our world with ruins, preserved battlefields, and museums.  So, why should Windemere be any different?

I think the physical effects of war on a landscape tend to get overlooked, but I can never figure out why.  I was about to write that people don’t see these every day, but there are places on Earth where the scars of war are daily visuals.  Could it be that there is a lot of weight to such a thing, so authors reserve it for a plot point?  Having characters walk through an abandoned battlefield creates a certain atmosphere much like a graveyard or a dark road.  There’s a sadness as well as some awe and maybe even fear that the events will return.  In fantasy, you can have undead appear, so battlefields usually have a specific use in these stories.

Still, what about scars that aren’t battlefields?  Cities and towns that have been damaged in the fight may rebuild.  Even if they don’t put up monuments, buildings will be erected to replace those lost.  A slight change in material or the fact that they look newer than their neighbors can be a reminder.  So, the scale of war scars isn’t always epic, but the events do make a change.  It certainly is easier to make the visible parts of this so big that they can’t be ignored.  Craters that nothing grow in, abandoned cities, fields of swords driven into the ground, swamps of bodies, and the list keeps going of what I’ve seen in the fantasy genre.  Honestly, it makes fantasy worlds seem to be nothing more than wars and patches of corpses.

As far as the lasting scars, you could even have the locals celebrate a holiday around the event or have a distrust towards outsiders.  These are parts of world building as well because they help create the scenes and give a history.  In fact, I would say that ancient wars are essential part of a world’s history and helps give a sense of the types of people that live within the story even if they weren’t part of the war.  You can see how certain groups relate to each other or understand the existence of various treaties.  Personally, I like setting things up like this instead of having races get along or hate each other simply on principle.  A great example is how elves and dwarves ALWAYS appear to despise each other.  Most fantasy worlds won’t give you a reason, so you can assume it’s because Tolkien did it.  Although, I never understood why authors focus on that part and now how Legolas and Gimli became friends.

Another ‘scar’ that one can find in fantasy is what I guess you could call a roaming scar or maybe just a remnant.  With so much magic being flung about in some of these battles, it isn’t strange to discover a creature or weapon that was unleashed.  Maybe it was created by accident or it was what was used to end the war, but it’s still moving around even though the battle is over.  Sometimes they travel far and wide or they might remain in the area as a guardian.  Now, these tend to only come about when the story requires them because having a super weapon appear for no reason makes little sense.  Ghosts and zombies can fall into this as well since areas of massive death are known for creating such things.

So, what do you think of this aspect of world building?  Have you ever used it or given it more than a passing notice?  How much does a war scar effect the history of the world you’re either reading or writing?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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12 Responses to Scars of War to Enhance a World

  1. Neat topic. I did a bunch of this in Yak Guy. It doesn’t have the magical elements, but it’s kind of a warning about the devastation of war.

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  2. That’s something I hadn’t really thought about or noticed, but after reading your post, I realize that I’ve read a lot of stories with old battlefields in them. Thanks for pointing that out, I’m gong to be paying more attention to those scenes in the future, both reading and writing them.

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  3. Do you remember the animated movie Laputa? Right near the beginning, a group of people in an airship pass over a landscape that is marred by large craters. Grass is growing, but the scars remain.

    I’m also thinking of modern countries, like Viet Nam and Afghanistan, where land mines continue to destroy lives decades after wars that took place in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

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    • I never got to see that movie. It was similar to Nausica and Princess Mononoke if I remember the trailer. Anime does the scarred landscape a lot.

      Forgot about land mines. That’s a danger that I have trouble writing about even in fiction. Feels too dark and vivid in my head.

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